Whether you prefer snowboarding or skiing, a groomed lane or the alpine, and whether you’re a veteran or a novice, we think the Vantage by Smith is the best of the best ski helmet (or brain bucket) on the market.
Praised by avid skiers and sports authorities everywhere, the Vantage offers the perfect blend of protection, comfort, performance, versatility, and style. Visible through the vent openings of the helmet is Smith Optic’s distinctive honeycomb aerocore construction, designed to absorb any impact. Other specs include MIPS liner compatibility, superior ventilation, and an adjustable BOA dial for easy fitting — and all weighing in at a mere 18 oz! When it comes to protecting your skull, the Vantage is a no-brainer.
20 years ago, it was commonplace to see skiers and snowboarders ripping slopes without helmets. That has mostly changed. Today, 83% of skiers always wear their helmets on the slope, according to the National Ski Areas Association. It took two decades, but we finally got the message: A helmet is as essential a piece of ski gear as goggles or ski boots.
However, 83% is still lower than ideal. Studies (and common sense) clearly show that even a cheap helmet dramatically reduces the risk of concussion, head lacerations, and skull fractures. Helmets also keep your head warm and dry. Luckily, the embarrassing “brain buckets” of yester-decades are outmoded. Lab-tested and beautifully designed helmets made specifically for snow sports are now available at competitive prices.
All of the helmets in this review are for serious-minded skiers and snowboarders who seriously mind their noggins. Most were selected with regular use in ski resorts in mind, but there are a few more muscular models designed for extreme conditions out in the backcountry. All helmets listed are tested and approved by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).
Finding the Best Ski Helmet
Skiing has become more popular in recent years. This has a way of heightening our awareness of the risks involved. While you are more likely to be struck by lightning than experience a serious snow sports-related accident, the potential risk still exists. The most serious accidents — which are very serious, even life-changing if not life-ending — involve head trauma. So the most significant safety precaution on a slope is to wear a helmet.
But when should you wear a helmet? Many victims of ski accidents are not the crashers, but the “crashees” — that is, not the ones who were gliding down a slope at high velocity, but the pedestrian that happens to cross their path. Oftentimes, the injuries are so severe because the pedestrian was not wearing the appropriate gear. He wasn’t on his skis, after all! So it’s vital to wear your helmet at all times on the slope — not only when you’re ripping it.
For these reasons, it’s not enough to purchase a helmet that meets the proper safety standards. You need a helmet you will enjoy wearing and be less inclined to remove. In short, it needs to be comfortable. In this sense, style is also a safety concern. Sure, it’s a little vain, but the case remains that you are more likely to keep your noggin encased in ABS plastic if you look good in it.
Helmets are a no-brainer. Here’s everything you need to know about buying a ski or snowboard helmet…
Ski/Snowboard Helmet Size
Much like heads, helmets don’t come in the same size. Yet this is a vital consideration for safety as well as comfort. A helmet the wrong size won’t support the head and absorb impact. If you haven’t done so already, measure the circumference of your head. You can do this with a soft-sided measuring tape. If you don’t have one, use a string. Wrap it once around your head about an inch above the eyebrows and ears, and then hold the length up to a measuring rod.
Most helmets are sold in sizes of small, medium, or large. However, you should pay close attention to their measuring standards before making a purchase. You also should take into account the shape of your head. Is the done of your skull round-ish or oval-ish? Some brands have a reputation for fitting different head types better than others. Smith Optics is said to fit rounder heads best, whereas Giro fits narrower head shapes. But this is not true for each of their models.
The best practice is to visit a sports store in your area — even if you intend to purchase online later — and try on a few helmets until you find a comfortable fit. If this is not possible, check if an online retailer accepts returns.
There is no such thing as a “perfect fit” for most people. There is also no such thing as a one-size-fits-all. Steer clear of any brands that make such a claim. The best helmets have an adjustable fitting system, like a BOA dial, which helps you find a better fit.
Goggles and helmet are the peanut-butter-and-jelly of head safety. They belong together. In the best cases, they are made for each other.
Goggles and helmet should fit together like two pieces of a puzzle. If the fit is too tight, the helmet will be pushed up and goggles pushed down your nose. Or there’s the opposite problem: A gap is formed between the top of the goggles and the brow of the helmet, exposing a portion of your forehead to cold air.
The best way to guarantee a good fit is to keep your gear on-brand. All Smith helmets are designed to fit all Smith goggles, and all Giro helmets to fit Giro goggles, and so on. Many skiers find a brand they like and then commit to it.
However, if you have a favorite pair of goggles you’re unwilling to part with, some helmets are very accommodating to a variety of goggle types. Giro, for example, tends to design helmets that fit well with goggles made by other brands. Bern tends not to. Again, the best practice is to try on both at a sports equipment store before making a purchase.
Venting is a vital part of comfort. There are two types of air-vents on ski helmets: adjustable or fixed. Adjustable vents can be opened and closed, whereas fixed vents are just slits in the shell. Fixed vents are found in less expensive models, but they allow moisture to creep into the helmet on days of heavy snowfall.
The number and placement of vents is also an important consideration. The more vents, the higher the price tag tends to run. It should have at least 8, as a minimum. 11 is moderate. Over 15 is luxuriant.
There are 3 general construction types: ABS, in-mold, and hybrid in-mold.
ABS is the most traditional and durable type. They are a tough plastic hardshell with a foam liner glued on the inside to absorb impact. In addition to toughness, it also tends to be heaviest and the least expensive type.
In-mold and hybrid in-mold constructions are becoming more popular. The most high-end helmets are one of these. These constructions take a polycarbonate shell (thinner than the ABS) and an EPS foam liner and integrate them together into a single piece. These constructions tend to be more lightweight and with improved ventilation.
The difference between the in-mold and the hybrid is the latter adds a hardshell layer for extra protection. So hybrids offer the best of both worlds, but they tend to be more expensive.
How did we go about determining the best ski helmets, you ask? The results of these reviews came from cross-referencing product tests (both by companies and individuals), applying critical analytics to hundreds of customer experiences, researching the policies, principles, credentials, and methodologies of manufacturers, and also citing sports authorities on particular brands. In short, we have strived to put ourselves in the position of customers. The only difference is that we’ve done the research for them.
Below are the criteria we looked for when compiling this list:
- Branding: We started with established, praised, and popular brands that have a devoted following among avid skiers, and move on from there.
- Testing: We give more credibility to products that have been lab-tested for safety. For instance, a helmet may use a carbon fiber hard-shell instead of the standard APS plastic. That may sound tougher, but such materials are often untested.
- Fitting System: We value helmets that include an integrated fitting system, like a BOA dial. Adjusting the fit of a helmet is critical for both comfort and safety.
- Venting: Ventilation is difficult to quantify. However, we give greater value to helmets with an adjustable ventilation system, while also considering the number, size, and placement of vents.
- Weight: After several hours on the slope, a helmet can begin to feel heavy. Lightweight helmets are more likely to be worn at all times, so we consider weight a component of safety.
- Construction: How is the helmet built, of what material, and what are the safety features?
- Compatibility: We favor helmets that are compatible with more than one type of goggles and includes other compatibility features like a goggle strap, goggle retainer hook, goggle lock, etc.
- Versatility: We will favor helmets that are good for daily use and suitable for ski resorts, backcountry, or bike trails.
- Style: It’s more important to be safe, but why not look your best at the same time?
- Audio System: Listening to music is becoming a more popular part of the skiing experience. We value and review ear pads that are compatible with headphones or feature their own integrated audio system.
- Warranty: How long is the warranty, and what does this tell us about the product?
- Reviews: What are the experiences of buyers? Are they positive?
The Best Ski Helmets
Our top choice should be no surprise. The Vantage by Smith is widely identified as the best ski helmet by avid skiers and sports authorities everywhere. It provides excellent coverage for your entire head. Every square-inch is thoughtfully designed. Though the price tag is steep, the quality and comfort are second to none.
The Vantage includes all of the safety specs that are to be expected of a brand with standards as high as Smith. Visible through the vent openings of the helmet is their distinctive honeycomb aerocore construction, designed to absorb any impact. A MIPS liner is optional.
Aside from safety features, the Vantage pulls ahead of the competition with its comfort. Clocking in at a mere 18 oz, it feels like wearing nothing at all. The adjustable BOA dial makes it easy to find the perfect fit. Lastly, the Vantage has superior ventilation. There are a total of 21 vents to promote airflow, which is 13 more than our runner-up!
- Backcountry and frontside
- Optional MIPS liner
- High performance, low profile
- A bit pricey
The Mod5 by Oakely is our runner-up as it is in many respects the rival to the Vantage by Smith. Oakley manufactures some of the best ski goggles, but helmets are a new market for them. The Mod5 is their second attempt after the Mod3. New features include a kevlar-tough ABS plastic outer shell for extra protection and an adjustable venting system.
The Oakley Mod5 is like a discount version of the Vantage. It is about 8 oz heavier, but it still feels light when worn. The ventilation is excellent, but the design draws air through the goggles and out the top of the helmet, so it can’t expel heat as quickly. But when all is said and done, the Oakley Mod5 is a very solid design and runs a little cheaper than the Smith Vantage.
Other premium features include a magnetic chin strap and an adjustable BOA dial located at the back of the helmet. The design of the ear pads makes it difficult to wear headphones. But its few flaws are not deal-breakers.
- Optional MIPS liner
- More affordable
- Not headphone-compatible
- Pairs best with Oakley products
Giro was among the first major manufacturers to adopt MIPS technology. The Ledge is one of the latest in this line-up. It carries the distinction of being the most affordable ski helmet to feature this technology. We recognize it for the low price tag, but there’s much about this product to admire.
The Giro Ledge MIPS is a bare-bones, no-nonsense ski helmet. It may lack the florals and lace, but there is plenty here to satisfy the veteran skier. Notable features include a goggle retainer hook on the back, removable ear pads, and a primitive but effective Auto Loc 2 fit-adjustment system. While less user-friendly than a BOA dial, there are few complaints from users.
The Giro Ledge MIPS is deliberately minimalistic, even in appearance. This incidentally makes it compatible with almost any type of goggles. It is also available in multiple colors and the clean hardshell can endure a blow from a sledge-hammer.
- Very affordable
- Optional MIPS liner
- Available in multiple colors
- Somewhat uncomfortable fit
- Finicky fit-adjustment system
Backcountry skiing, as opposed to skiing on the groomed slopes of a ski resort, brings with it a new set of hazards. The sport has become more popular in recent years as equipment like helmets has improved, but one life is lost every month on average to avalanches in the U.S. alone.
In the alpine, hazards increase and the response time for assist-and-rescue decreases. For these reasons, considerations for everyday use — like comfort — take lower priority. The Salomon MTN Lab puts first things first when it comes to treks into the backcountry.
The Salomon is extremely lightweight, clocking in at a mere 13.25 oz. The ventilation is terrific, featuring 12 vents. It integrates well with most types of goggles, features a BAO adjustment dial, and includes 2 liners (1 for summer, 1 for winter) made of merino wool to keep you warm.
- Extremely lightweight
- Best for backcountry use
- Merino wool liners
- Non-adjustable vents
- Uncomfortable fit
POC is a Sweden-based company that has grown a reputation for elegance and engineering. The Obex features POC’s distinct SPIN technology. Basically, this is their “spin” (I’ll see myself out…) on the popular MIPS technology. That is, it tries to do the same thing: reduce rotational forces in an angled impact. Different design, same results.
The POC is an elegant piece of engineering. Cushioned pads fit beautifully into the lining. A distinct adjustable fit system cradles the skull evenly. A sleek ABS shell can withstand the toughest impacts. And it all looks stylish!
There are a few pull-backs. Though a mere 16.5 oz, the design distributes the weight unevenly, which makes it feel heavier. The chin strap does not include the desired amount of plush cushioning. And only 3 of the 11 vents are adjustable, so expect moisture to invade on days with heavy snowfall. Still, the POC is a competitively priced and innovative ski helmet.
- Innovative SPIN tech
- Competitive price
- Elegant design
- Limited vent adjustability
- A bit uncomfortable
- Poor weight distribution
Grimnir II TE MIPS Helmet
The Grimnir II is like that guy who, when told what’s required and then what’s possible, goes for the latter. This ski helmet by Sweet Protection spares no expense to make the most advanced and cutting-edge helmet on the market.
The outer shell of the Grimnir is carbon fiber reinforced polymer, as opposed to the standard ABS plastic. Beneath this, EPS foam absorbs and disperses impact. It clocks in at 21.2 oz, making it one of the heavier models, but you won’t notice because of the comfortable design. The box-constructed ear pads include ear ports for their Audio Ready tech.
The average buyer will think the Grimnir is just a bit…much — in price as well as features. It is a niche product, but it might just be the ticket for hitting big mountain lines in severe conditions. If you can overcome the daunting price tag, the Grimnir meets a standard of protection almost excessive, boasts features some would call luxuriant, and includes design elements that are borderline impractical.
- Carbon fiber hardshell
- POV camera/GoPro mount
- MIPS liner
- Very expensive
- Impractical design
Anon Nova Helmet + MIPS
With the Nova Helmet by Anon, we have a standard, professional-grade ski helmet. Competitively priced, it includes the most essential features and integrates them into a sleek design. The fleece liner and ear pads are removable and machine-washable, which makes this one of the most low-maintenance helmets out there.
The Anon weighs 18.8 oz and allows you to adjust all 23 vents with one hand. Seal them during heavy snowfall to keep out moisture, or open them on sunny days to expel heat. The shell is integrated with a BOA fitting system, and the Fidlock SNAP magnetic buckle makes it easy to remove or secure the helmet.
The most distinctive feature of the Anon is the ICEDot Emergency ID Service. This stores your emergency contact and medical information. In the event of an accident, first responders will know exactly who to call and how to treat you — even if you’re unconscious.
- 1-year warranty
- Audio compatible
- ICEDot Emergency ID Service
- Gaps may form around the ears
- A bit heavy
- Not unisex
The Revent is the popular standard model ski helmet by Atomic. Their goal is to manufacture a helmet that is like any other in its price range — only 30% safer. This is done through thoughtful design, rather than by adding new features. The result is a super safe, super light, and super competitive ski helmet.
Like most ski helmets, the Atomic has an upper layer ABS plastic hardshell. However, the lower layer is an in-mold construction. This makes it more durable and less heavy. The Atomic also includes a distinctive EPS Halo Core, which is a dense foam liner along the inside dome of the helmet. This “halo” makes the Atomic 30% more effective at absorbing impact than other helmets.
The 9 vents, while adjustable, are fewer than desired. Many users complained that heat could not escape the helmet quickly enough for comfort. Beyond this, the Atomic is highly reviewed.
- 2-year limited warranty
- EPS Halo Core
- Competitive price
- A bit heavy
- Poor ventilation
K2 is a veteran ski brand with a faithful following. And the Diversion is their best helmet. Available in black, dark blue, or red, the hybrid construction make this one of the lightest helmets on this list — a mere 15.2 oz! It includes adjustable ventilation, so it’s good for a groomed slope or the alpine.
The K2 manages such low weight because of its hybrid construction. The hardshell is ABS plastic, whereas the sides are an in-mold construction. Vents line both the top and sides of the helmet, giving you full control. Add that with the low-profile look and a plushy liner, and you’ve got a solid ski helmet.
Where the K2 falls from grace is its baseline audio system feature. Skiers report that the sound quality is poor. Usually, the volume is too quiet. And the attached cable is awkwardly placed. If the K2 would settle with audio compatibility, and maybe lower the price as a result, they would have a much more competitive product.
- Super lightweight
- 1-year limited warranty
- Poor audio feature
- Small Boa dial
- A bit pricey
The Winter Watts is Bern’s original visor helmet. Their goal was a versatile helmet that could be worn on slopes as well as bike trails any time of year. It comes with two liners — one for the summer, one for the winter — to meet this very purpose. The smooth, biker-inspired design is available in four colors. And it looks good anywhere and on anyone!
Aside from style, the second point in the Bern’s favor is its comfort. The ABS plastic hardshell integrates with a BOA fitting system, and the liners are super plush. Just slip it on, tighten the dial, and you can forget you’re wearing it. This is so despite the Bern being one of the heaviest helmets on this list, weighing a total of 20 oz!
There are a few drawbacks. The vents are fixed and few (11 total), which means the helmet won’t dump hot air very quickly. It will also draw in moisture on days of heavy rain or snowfall.
- Stylish design
- Super comfortable fit
- MIPS compatible
- Non-adjustable vents
- Fits large goggles poorly
Is a snowboard helmet different from a ski helmet?
Companies often choose to market snow sports helmets either to skiers or snowboarders, but there is no difference between them. A snowboarder is free to use a helmet marketed to skiers, and vice versa. The difference is entirely in name.
For this reason, it is often best to refer to “snow sports” rather than “skiing” or “snowboarding,” respectively. However, of the two activities, skiing is by far the more popular. Especially for beginners picking up snow sports for the first time, skiing is a less steep learning curve. Skis are also easier to control and may result in fewer injuries. For this reason, consumers researching snow gear to buy will usually search for “ski helmets” instead of “snowboard helmets.”
Both snowboard helmets and ski helmets share the same features, and the same helmet may be marketed as either for skiing or snowboarding. However, there is a difference between a snow sports helmet and a bike helmet. For one thing, a bike helmet offer more protection for the front of the head. Snow sports helmets offer more protection for the back. The reason for these different designs is, in snow sports, the velocity which carries the body is under the body, so it is more likely the body will fall backwards in the event of an accident. Meanwhile, a bike accident is more likely to involve a quick stop which launches the body forward.
Is a helmet necessary?
A helmet is the best way to avoid head-related injuries such as concussions, head lacerations, and skull fractures. Head-related injuries are commonplace on the slope. Whether you are a beginner or a veteran, it is only a matter of time before you spill and give your head a good knock. Most severe head-related injuries on the slope could be minimized or avoided by wearing a helmet.
Beyond matters of safety, a helmet also keeps your head warm and dry. This makes your time on the slope more comfortable and enjoyable. It also keeps you less distracted, so a potential accident might be averted. It’s also important to remember that by wearing a helmet, you not only make yourself safer — you make everyone around you safer.
Some skiers may choose not to wear a helmet because they think it is too expensive. If this is so, it can’t be much more expensive than a hospital bill. At any rate, helmets these days are competitively priced. You should consider a helmet an article from your snow gear budget that is as critical as your skis, goggles, or gloves.
Some skiers may choose not to wear a helmet because they think it doesn’t look cool. This is not a problem these days when so many helmets are beautifully designed and come in a wide array of colors. At any rate, it can’t “look cool” to get an injury and be carried out on a stretcher.
Some skiers may choose not to wear a helmet because they find it uncomfortable or heavy. Many helmet designs counteract this problem by emphasizing plushy liners and lightweight construction. At any rate, no helmet is less comfortable than a cracked noggin.
What is MIPS?
Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) is a form of slip-plane technology designed to minimize rotational impact that results from slow crashes or impacts at oblique angles. MIPS is an additional safety measure which goes beyond those required for helmets to meet CPSC or ASTM standards.
MIPS was developed by biomechanical specialists at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. It works by constructing the helmet in two layers, stacked like the layers of an onion.
These two layers have some “wiggle-room” which allows them to rotate against each other. The first layer is usually an ABS plastic or polycarbonate hardshell. The second layer is usually foam. The inspiration behind this construction is the way the brain rotates its own cerebrospinal fluid, which is how the body naturally defends the brain against rotational impacts.
Helmets are effective at minimizing or avoiding most head injuries. However, they are not immune to all forms of head injury. Concussions, while usually minor, are still commonplace. Rotational force resulting from an oblique impact is the leading cause of concussion. MIPS was designed to help prevent concussions specifically.
Since MIPS burst into the mainstream, it has become wildly popular. Most helmets have the option of being fitted with a MIPS construction. Alternatives to MIPS also exist which seek other ways to absorb rotational impact, such as POC’s SPIN technology.
Is skiing dangerous?
Like all sports or strenuous physical activities, particularly those that take place in the outdoors, skiing involves a degree of risk. The potential risk is higher than for some other sports. According to the latest reports by the NSAA, there were 37 fatalities and nearly 40 severe, life-altering injuries reported during the 2017/18 season. Most of these were the result of skiers colliding with other skiers, trees, or man-made objects.
Skiing has become more popular in recent decades, which statistically increases the number of victims. General concern over the risks involved in snow sports is at least partially for better safety practices, such as wearing your helmet at all times.
Skiers and snowboarders have less than a 1 in 1 million chance of dying from snow sports-related trauma. They also have less than 1 in a million chance of receiving a catastrophic, life-changing injury. You are more likely to die from a lightning strike. However, the potential risk is still present. It should incentivize you to wear the appropriate gear.
What are the best ski helmets?
The best helmet is a lab-tested product you will actually wear. All helmets on this list meet CPSC or ASTM standards. This means they are all sufficiently safe. However, this does not make them interchangeable. Some helmets are better than others.
The best ski or snowboard helmets include adjustable venting. You can open them to expel heat and close them to prevent moisture from seeping into your helmet during heavy snowfall. The best helmets have over 8 vents tactfully placed along the top and sides of the helmet.
The best helmets feature an integrated fitting system, like a BOA dial. A snug and comfortable fit is a key point of safety. Not every helmet will fit your head right out of the box, and no helmet will fit you perfectly. So a fitting system is a good measure toward extra safety and comfort.
The best helmets are compatible with multiple types of goggles. They also include other compatibility features like a goggle strap, goggle retainer hook, goggle lock, etc.
The best helmets are lightweight. This makes them easy to carry and more comfortable to wear. You are less likely to remove them after several hours on the slope, which helps keep you safe.
The best helmets are versatile. They are suitable for either the groomed slopes of a ski resort or the rugged slopes of the alpine. They are good for regular use.
Skiing is becoming a popular pastime that keeps people fit and outdoors. It’s a workout. It’s fun. But not all the dangers involve gravity. To make your next ski trip the best it can be, check out these other products.
- Smith Optics I/O Mag ChromaPop: Designed to pair beautifully with the helmet of your choice, these goggles offer great ventilation, clarity, and protection. We think they’re the best ski goggles you can buy!
- Black DiamondLightweight Screentap Gloves: Best for sunny winter conditions, these gloves are perfect for a day trip to the slope. You can even snap photos on your smartphone without removing your gloves.
- Jack Black Pit Boss Antiperspirant and Deodorant: After a few hours ripping the slope, you (and your neighbors) might appreciate another application of deodorant. Check out our review!
- Simple Modern Summit Water Bottle: The cold air can trick you into feeling more hydrated than you really are. Come prepared with an insulated water bottle that won’t freeze in cold conditions — it’s one of our favorites!